For services businesses that deliver highly specialized knowledge and expertise to customers, their ability to set reasonable and realistic expectations and then deliver exceptional experiences is critical to their long-term growth. The essence of customer management in services businesses including each area of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) industry is predicated on this concept of customer management. Concentrating on setting realistic expectations then delivering excellent experiences is the essence of excellence in customer management. Creating expectations and delivering remarkable experiences for customers in service industries gets quickly beyond technical ability to the innate sense of what really matters to customers and addressing those issues clearly, candidly and honestly (Ang, Buttle, 2009). The bottom line is that by continually delivering exceptional customer service experiences based on realistic expectations builds trust and reinforces a reputation of excellence in customer service. Trust is the new currency and it is earned and kept with the ability to understand not just the stated and explicit needs of a customer, but also understanding the nuances and unmet needs they have as well (Ballantyne, 2005). Business that can ascertain these implicit needs are exceptionally more successful than others as they earn trust much faster than competitors.
Customer Management Best Practice Strategies in HVAC Retailing Industry
For the many service providers and retailers including The AC Guy Ltd., the challenges of capturing new customers and keeping them are the biggest issue with regard to their customer management and relationship strategies. All efforts at marketing, selling and service need to be aligned to exceeding customer expectations and doing everything possible to drive referrals by word-of-mouth and customer enthusiasm for the services delivered. Word-of-mouth is the single greatest trusted source of information that prospective customers rely on in choosing which service provider to partner with over the ones that portray mastery of their given expertise area (Lassar, Lassar, Rauseo, 2008). The higher the level of customer retention, the higher the long-term profitability and increased Customer Lifetime Value (CLV), including the potential to create customer references used for capturing new accounts (Xevelonakis, 2005). To attain this high level of referenceability and have customers recommend AC Guy Ltd., the implicit or unspoken needs of prospects and needs to be understood. Each and every aspect of the marketing and selling efforts and strategies of the company also need to be aligned to delivering an exceptional customer experience as well as is shown in Figure 1.
Getting a 360-degree View Of The Customer And Interacting Through Each Communications and Selling Channel Sources:
In the HVAC industry globally this is the single biggest challenge faced by manufacturers, retailers, service providers and warranty repair centers alike. Capturing and keeping customers loyal is key to each member of the industry's profitability in the short- and long-term. The service providers comparable to AC Guy Ltd. who are attaining this are taking customer management a step further than just using traditional Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems to track activity with customers and report back how many times they are called, talked to in person or visited at their offices or locations (Lassar, Lassar, Rauseo, 2008).
The best practice in this area of attracting and retaining customers transcends just cataloging the specifics of a given customer and entering their information into a database. It involves listening to customers;' unmet needs, wants, preferences and gaining greater insights into what their specific requirements are. The ability of any business to understand d their customers' business as if it was their own, anticipating not only the explicit needs but also appreciating the implicit requirements, will be more effective at winning and keeping trust over the long-term (Verhoef, Lemon, Parasuraman, Roggeveen, Tsiros, Schlesinger, 2009). It is this ability to thoroughly understand and empathize with customers that differentiates HVAC manufacturers, retailers, and service providers. Critical to getting the most out of this best practice for AC Guy Ltd., is to assertively and proactively market their value to address these implicit or unspoken needs that prospects and clients have. Being able to show that depth of insight into the more complex needs of prospective customers communicate the very high level of value that AC Guy Ltd., is capable of delivering given its experience of 20 years in the industry. This is by far a more effective strategy for attracting an retaining customers vs. selling on price alone. The innate value a service can deliver on a consistent basis, aligned to the explicit (spoken) and implicit (unspoken) needs of a prospect or customer, is one of the strongest catalysts for gaining credibility and trust in sales cycles and customer relationships (Gubman, 1995). Instead of competing on price, service providers comparable to the AC Guy Ltd., concentrate on competing with their expertise and intelligence, in addition to showing the readily understand the challenges of a given customer in terms of HVAC requirements, including how to minimize energy costs, long-term financing of new systems and maintenance.
All of these factors lead to the second best practice in customer relationships and management, and that is becoming a trusted advisor. Be anticipating and quickly responding to implicit and explicit customer needs, an HVAC-based business can translate their expertise and knowedlge into the basis of a strong customer relationship. This second best practice of being a trusted advisor is firmly centered on the value any business provides its client. Value to customers can be delivered in many different ways, constrained or limited only by the creativity and imagination of the business owners. For The AC Guy Ltd., the focus needs to be on how to freely share the expertise gained over decades of experience with its prospects and customers. Aligning every interaction, discussion and meeting to how best to use the inherent insight, intelligence and knowledge of The AC Guy Ltd., staff to solve customer problems is the quickest strategy to become a trusted advisor. Value-based selling concentrates on combining all available insight, intelligence and knowledge into each interaction with a prospect or customer at every possible opportunity (Ryals, 2005). What services companies often neglect to acknowledge or fail to see is that they are really selling their expertise in a given area, not necessarily just the service of keeping air conditioners running well or entire HVAC systems up and running. Selling the expertise and intelligence that a given business has is even more important that just selling the service itself of fixing a problem or making a problem go away (Favilla, 2004).
The second best practice in customer management is to always seek to be a thought leader in your specific areas of expertise. The fact that General Electric is so highly regarded across so many dimensions of their business is precisely due to this best practice in customer management. For the HVAC manufacturers, suppliers and resellers, thought leadership needs to center on their core strengths as a business. For AC Guy Ltd., being a thought leader in tropical air conditioning and its many effects on utilities costs, repair and maintenance of equipment, and the development of effective long-term programs for getting the most from air conditioning investments are all areas to consider. Bering a thought leader in a given industry is also critical to become a trusted advisor to prospects and customers alike. A company cannot just claim to be a thought leader, it must seek to evolve to this level of value to prospects and customers by freely sharing their expertise through as many communications channels as their prospects and customers use. Increasingly the role of trusted advisors is focused on sharing the combination of expertise, experience and acquired intelligence from continual training and pursuit of technology expertise to benefit customers with their challenges (Arnett, Badrinarayanan, 2005). Becoming a trusted advisor takes a commitment to both continually improve how information and intelligence are captured within a business, as well as aggressively pursuing training and technology insight from industry schools, seminars and programs. By taking this approach to making intelligence and insight, combined with expertise and experience the foundation of any business, trust and respect inevitably emerges. Becoming a trusted advisor is critical to growing any business and by combining internal expertise with a continual and passionate pursuit of education in a given field, any business can quickly rise above competitors and gain the trust and respect of prospects and customers alike (Nasir, Nasir, 2005). Becoming a trusted advisor takes hard work however and a commitment to being the very best provider of a given service area than anyone in the region of competition, from local and regional focus, to those companies who are globally-based (Ballantyne, 2005). For the AC Guy Ltd., the focus needs to be on how to be perceived as the most intelligent, advanced providers of air conditioning services in their region. A continual pursuit of training and certification, continual publishing of the lessons learned and striving to be the thought and industry leader in air conditioning will eventually…